News and Comment

How can we make sure that disability hate crime gets the justice it deserves?

Wednesday 17 April 2013

As a new report shows that victims of disability hate crime are being let down by the justice system, what can we do to address the woefully low rate of detection, reporting and recording of targeted violence and hostility towards disabled people?

Published in late March, the joint inspection of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and the National Probation Service, explores how the three agencies deal with disability hate crime. The concluding report, Living in a different world: A joint review of disability hate crime, found that there is widespread confusion about what constitutes disability hate crime, along with low reporting rates and substandard support for victims.

Over the years, OPM has done a fair amount of research in this area and we have drawn similar conclusions. In 2010, we were commissioned by Mencap to conduct research for their ‘Don’t stand by’ campaign to stop hate crime against people with learning difficulties. We spoke to fourteen police forces about their approaches to dealing with this kind of crime and found that despite efforts to put measures in place to address it, their approaches varied widely and the national statistics do not represent what is actually happening on the ground. This turns into a vicious circle; if the police forces make budget decisions based on prevalence, and disability hate crime is underreported, it won’t be recognised, won’t get resourced and the problem won’t be addressed. And so the cycle continues.

We found several key issues that lead to the under-reporting and recording of disability hate crime. Either it’s not identified correctly, i.e. the crime is miscategorised as another crime and not a hate crime. Or, because there is no one-way of recording or categorising it, it is difficult to break it down. Along with the police not recording hate crimes correctly, there is a reluctance from the victims to report the crime in the first place, for fear of it not being taken seriously. Take ‘Susie’ and ‘Charlie’, for example, a couple with long-term mental health issues who endured persistent harassment from their neighbours. In this animated audio account of their experience, they talk about how as soon as they told the police about their health issues, they felt that their concerns were disregarded.

So how can we solve these issues? Well firstly, with training. We saw that most police officers had only received generic equality training when they joined and even less in how to recognise hate crime. The police may be making progress with setting up measures to record crime against disabled people, however, if officers are not up to speed and there is no consensus about what disability hate crime actually is, then these measures will be redundant.

Further, the forces need to do more to encourage witness reporting and provide better support for victims. Through our research, we saw many instances of good and innovative practice, such as encouraging the community to feel more comfortable with approaching the police through ‘get to know your police officer’ days, and linking up with social workers as vulnerable victims often report crime to them rather than the police. If police services got together to share these best practices, the tackling of hate crime could be vastly improved.